Essential Documents for the Professional Photographer

Professional photographers are often forced to be highly-organized business managers too. This is because they usually work on their own, without the benefit of an assistant of any kind, and they are obliged to manage every facet of their professional life. This is one of the main reasons that a savvy freelance photographer will be sure to have access to a collection of essential photography document templates that can protect them from financial loss or legal problems of any kind. This same photographer should also have a formal business plan and a calendar for assessing it periodically.

Why is a business plan an essential document? It is the basic road map that tells the photographer if they are meeting their mission or goals, and indicates if they need to make some changes in the structure or operation of their business.

The Business Plan and Beyond

Let’s first take a look at the average elements of the business plan and then move on to the document templates so necessary for the freelance photographer’s work.

The business plan is basically an outline that contains a lot of fundamental data about the official photographic business. It will tell the legal name and structure of the business, it will itemize the assets and debts, and it will always have some sort of mission statement or formal goals. This is the essential part of the document for the photographer because it identifies their area of specialization and how they intend to go about selling their work.

For example, let’s say that a photographer has decided to work as a travel photographer who sells their work through stock photography sites, and to several travel-oriented websites. Over time, however, they are discovered by a publisher that focuses on hardcover travel books. When the bulk of their work is now being done for print media instead of the Internet, the photographer needs to go back and assess their entire business plan to reflect this massive shift in operations. This might change the costs associated with running the business, the types of equipment they need, and even the amount of income they anticipate earning. This will help to keep the business on an “even keel” and help the photographer to understand where their business or career is headed.

Everyday Templates and Contracts

In line with the formalization of a business plan, the freelance photographer will also want to sit down with an attorney who can help them to draft several “templates” of the legally binding documents with which they will structure their work. For example, it is not unusual for a photographer to keep blank contracts for several different types of work, and property or model releases too.

The written contracts should always itemize everything that will be included in the job or the work to be done by the photographer, and they should always be signed by both parties. The major points to be covered in the contract include:

A point by point description of the work to be done – this can include an inventory list of wedding shots, or it might describe the event or area to be photographed. It should also say where and when the work will be done;

The authorized client – you may be working with a bride and groom, or a corporation, but there will always be one person with the authority to “sign off” on the work. Be sure to list their name and the specifics about the approval process. For example, note if they have the authority to finalize the work and to request changes, etc.;

The costs – be sure to note if the client is going to absorb any fees associated with materials, expenses, etc. and also include any “caps” on these sums;

Ownership – will you (the photographer) have the copyright on the work you do or will this transfer to the client at the time you are paid for the work?;

Fee – apart from expenses, there will be the actual cost for the work to be done. This needs to be listed as a separate line item on any contract;

Payment schedule – most clients will need to give a deposit for the work, and the schedule for the remaining payments should be set down in the contract. For example, indicate the amount of the deposit, note any payments due in the midterm (and list the dates), and the amount of the final payment and its due date; and

Delivery – itemize the dates that the work is due to be completed and the manner in which it will be received. If you don’t do paper prints, and instead rely on digital files, then put this down. Be sure to describe the exact date and manner in which the project is closed and completed.

Release Forms

When the document is a release form, the issue is much simpler. Basically, a photographer cannot use any image of a person or a property for advertising or promotional purposes unless there is signed permission to do so. The release form will give this sort of official license to use the image accordingly. Keeping these on file is something that must be done on a permanent basis, but they are always a mandatory document for most photographers’ records.

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